When you’re riding high and on top of the world—like Paul Eaves and Clay Smith have been most of the 2018 season—there’s a special skip in your step as you whistle your way to the barn every morning. But if you’ve seen him around during the month of March, you’ve noticed that Clay currently has a little hitch in his get-along.
“I kind of look like Festus,” Clay laughs, in reference to the popular, hobbling cowboy character from Gunsmoke.
On March 2—during the second round of the Cinch Timed Event Championship at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma—Smith suffered a little setback in the steer wrestling.
“When I jumped, I missed the steer and I landed on my left leg,” explained the Broken Bow, Oklahoma cowboy, who’s headed at the last three straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. “I twisted my ankle real bad, and that’s what caused the break. I knew it was hurt, but I didn’t know what was wrong right then, so I finished out the round. It hurt pretty good in the steer roping.
“After the steer roping, my dad (Mark) and wife (Taylor) talked me into going to see the sportsmedicine people (the Rodeo Sports Medicine Team). I could feel my leg pop when I was walking. There was a doctor in there who was a specialist. He squeezed my leg where it was broken, and we could both feel it move.”
The doctor and sportsmed staff sent Smith to the closest hospital in nearby Edmond for a set of X-rays, which confirmed a broken fibula. That’s the small bone that runs between the knee and ankle, alongside the tibia.
“I didn’t even know I had two bones in my leg,” Smith said. “The break was right below my knee. They sent me home in a Velcroed boot, but the top of it was at the break, so that didn’t last long. They told me I didn’t need surgery, but that I needed to take six to eight weeks off.”
He got hurt Friday night, and withdrew from the rest of the Timed Event. It was obvious the leg would not let him do five-event Ironman battle. By Tuesday morning, Clay was in the office of Dr. Tandy Freeman in Dallas, who agreed—thankfully—that surgery was not necessary.
“I left the Timed Event pretty upset at myself,” Smith said. “That event is something I look forward to six months in advance. To take myself out of that deal was pretty upsetting to me. I’d been tripping a lot of steers. My brother (Jake) was there helping me. I even went and practiced bulldogging a few times before it this year.
“My main concern when I got hurt was that I wouldn’t let Paul down. And I was thankful that my injury wasn’t nearly as serious as Chad Masters’s knee injury that one year, or Erich Rogers’s knee injury this year.”
Prayers for a successful surgery and happy healing to reigning World Champion Header Rogers, who is undergoing surgery today (March 30) in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Gary Waslewski, who serves as the orthopedic surgeon for the Arizona Cardinals NFL football team and Phoenix Coyotes NHL hockey team, is repairing the torn ACL in Rogers’s right knee with Rogers’s own patellar tendon from the same leg. Dr. Waslewski is also arthroscopically cleaning up Rogers’s MCL and meniscus. His surgeon says he’ll be out six to eight months. Rogers has different plans.
“I’m not going to listen to him after about 10 weeks,” said Rogers, who hopes to be back in time to rope with Clint Summers at the BFI and Reno Rodeo in June. We’ll check back in with Rogers next week to bring you a post-surgical update, so be on the lookout for that.
Back to Smith, he didn’t have that six to eight weeks for R & R, as suggested by doctors.
“I couldn’t sit out Houston,” Clay said. “The first place I roped after I got hurt was at the Lone Star Shootout in Stephenville (on March 9; a week to the day after he broke his leg; Clay and Paul won the first round of Saturday’s Top 60 round).”
Clay couldn’t wrap his leg, because the pressure caused him too much pain. So Taylor bought some memory foam, and duct taped it around his stirrup to serve as a shock absorber. On Saturday night, March 10, Clay and Paul roped at Rodeo Austin. They were 5.9 to take the lead, but in the end didn’t make the cut to come back. That Sunday, March 11, they started their Super Series at RodeoHouston.
Smith and Eaves won two of three rounds in their Super Series to advance to one of two Semifinals, where they placed second to move on to the Top 10 Finals. They were one out of making the cut for the Final Four. Clay and Paul also placed at the rodeo in Mercedes, Texas, that first week back with the broken leg.
But their in-arena success is secondary when it comes to the skip in Smith’s uneven step right now. Clay O’Brien Smith will be 27 on April 26. That’s the same week (April 23, to be exact) he and Taylor are expecting their first baby. Clay was named after Clay O’Brien Cooper. Jake, who’ll turn 25 on April 20, was named after Jake Barnes. Brother Britt, who’ll be 17 on May 6, was named after Britt Bockius.
Clay and Taylor are having a baby boy, and his name will be Jade O’Brien Smith—Jade after Jade Corkill.
“I’m about three weeks away from being a dad, and I’m really excited,” Clay said. “It’s going to be a blast. I’m ready to go to the dummy ropings again.”
It’s a humorous irony that in the Smith family Clay’s a header and Jake’s a heeler. So why is a world-class header naming his first-born son after a world-class heeler?
“I gotta keep it a roping name, and I gotta have another heeler,” he said, beaming with a great big first-time-dad-to-be smile.”
He’s counting his many blessings, and vowing not to let a little broken bone affect his future Timed Event plans.
“I really enjoy competing at the Timed Event, and it’s been pretty good to me,” Smith said. “I like doing all the events. It’s fun and relaxing to get to go up there, stay in one spot for a few days, and do it all. I’ll be back next year, for sure.
“This year’s been good. Broken leg and all, I have no complaints. I’ve had no left leg—I can’t kick or squeeze—and my horses (his gray horse, Marty; sorrel horse, Ransom; and dunn horse, Jazz) have taken good care of me. My leg’s a lot better, and I’m practicing when I’m home now, so things are pretty much back to normal. I’m really thankful that I’m not a bulldogger or a calf roper, where what happened would really hinder me. It could have been so much worse, and I’m really fortunate to be as healthy as I am.”